4x4 Adventures Ltd Taunton, Somerset
4x4 Adventures Summer Offroad Weekend
13th/14th Jul 13, Llanthony, Wales
Words by James Trembath, Mark Morgan and Jon Swatton
Pictures from Red Yeti Photography and Jon Swatton

For 2013 we decided to take on the challenge of offering something a little different to the 4x4 fraternity. Overlanding and greenlaning gives the chance to get together with a group of like minded people whilst off roading; we therefore decided to expand on our already popular greenlane days and add in some ‘discussion/Training demonstrations’ to a weekend. To promote the social side of the event we threw in a couple of team building exercises and a Bar BQ. These combined with a specifically designed driving route on the farm Saturday (made to keep everyone on their toes) plus a greenlane trip on the Sunday made for a very busy packed weekend of activities for all who dared to come! We had a fantastic spread of both vehicle and driver capability and experience with older Toyotas through to brand new 130 Pumas.

The event is best summed up by one of the participants Jon Swatton:

“Take your tow bar off, it will hamper your progress on the drive round” was the general comment that James, Mark and Tim all said to me within minutes of us arriving at the wonderful sunny setting in the Welsh Black Mountains on the Friday evening. “It’s my rear recovery point”, was my reply, which, when translated, really meant, “I’ve been in the car for four hours, stuck in traffic jams with a ten year old who is tired, hungry and whiney, I want to pitch the tent and sort out some food before the light fades too much so I can relax a bit. Even though I’ve got the socket set in the back, I WANT A BEER!” So, with all that in mind, I blatantly ignored what would turn out to be very sound advice!

The plan for the weekend was based on an overland expedition theme and centred around a guided drive around route, then activities/talks and practical demonstrations on the farm land itself on the Saturday and then off out into mid Wales for a guided laning trip on the Sunday.

The vehicle of choice for almost all of the participants was a Defender. We were fortunate to have the full range of wheel bases, which would give some insight as to how each variant would cope with different obstacles. I’m guessing that we also had pretty much the full range of engines, numerous body styles and... dare I say... less Grey than on previous trips I’ve been on! The one exception (or perhaps the rose amongst the thorns in Mark & Evelyn’s eyes) was a twenty four year old Toyota Land Cruiser, that I understand they had bought blind from the web in order to fulfil their dream of travelling to India.

Most people had arrived by late evening on the Friday, although Allen and his family had travelled over in their 130 on the Thursday from the Netherlands. Allen seemed to have forgotten some of his camping and photographic gear but had brought along his two Airdales, both of which were lovely multi-talented creatures, with one being an exceptional food thief and the other, a potential finalist in the Dutch dog street dancing championship.
We all gathered around the camp fire on the Friday evening to enjoy a couple of drinks and the banter started to flow as we reacquainted ourselves and got to know the folk we’d not met before. There was a broad mix of experience and abilities in the group, ranging from off road guru to novice. Despite having been on a small number of laning trips and off road days in the past, I still very much consider myself to be in the novice category and on a steep learning curve.

Saturday morning arrived. Okay... What happened to the sunshine that the rest of the British Isles was basking in?????

At the drive around briefing, James was keen to point out that there was no pressure or obligation on any one to do anything they didn’t want to do. Be that attending one of the afternoon talks, or indeed, tackling a more challenging obstacle on the drive around course. Whilst the lead vehicle would stop, talk through and then demonstrate their suggested route/approach to a more challenging obstacle, we were also encouraged to stop, hop out and assess for ourselves if we felt it necessary, rather than just ploughing on regardless.

Off we went into our allocated groups and were allocated a running order and CB channel. Tim was leading our group in his Puma 110 USW, followed by Allen+family+dogs in his Puma 130 DC, then the experienced Jeroen+Shane in a Tdi 90 SW, my son and I in the Td5 110 SW and finally, the offroad and winch king himself, David Bowyer in his Tdi 90 SW, which judging by the amount of dials/meters, switches and lights inside the cab, looked like it was fitted with a flux capacitor and was capable of time travel. All three wheel base variants in the same group... Nicely planned.

To break up the drive around course and to encourage us to get out of the cab and work together as a group, there were two challenges set along the way. The first was to construct a temporary crossing of a shallow ditch (but imagined to be 1m deep and endless to stop the smart arses just suggesting we drive through it or around it) with non uniform sized tree trunks, ratchet straps, waffle boards, a shovel and a pile of earth and guide all our vehicles across within thirty minutes or so. Our vehicles were safely guided across our makeshift bridge either by crawling over or adopting the Clarkson’esque ‘speed is best’ approach. I think Allen was slightly concerned I may run him over as he guided me across.
On to more challenging drive around obstacles involving sharp turns that required a bit of thought and shunting for the 110’s and 130 but the 90’s in our group got around with relative ease.
We then headed back towards the area set aside for our second challenge and this involved us crossing for the second time, a reasonably deep gulley. There were no dramas crossing this gulley the first time around and yet it took me three attempts to get through on the second run. Due I suspect to a lack of initial forward momentum that was further hampered by that bl**dy tow bar of mine acting like an anchor – DOH! Don’t you just hate it when other people are proved right! I finally made it to the challenge area, having partly covered my son with flying mud from the spinning wheels. A friendly voice came over the CB suggesting that maybe my son should take over the driving! I took this light hearted suggestion with good grace and cheerily responded with a friendly wave with a small number of fingers.
David introduced our second challenge, which was to navigate our vehicle through four temporary gates in any sequence we chose but with the driver blindfolded and receiving basic directions from their passenger. After a bit of planning and walking the course, off we went with David walking alongside us to given my son a touch more comfort. We didn’t do too badly, making it cleanly through three of the four gates. Not a bad effort, just a bit more work required on our ‘lefts’ and ‘rights’ After this challenge, we continued the drive around course tackling the more challenging obstacles from the opposite direction to before.

After this challenge, we continued the drive around course tackling the more challenging obstacles from the opposite direction to before.

We then finally came back to the challenge area where we discussed the function of the central differential lock and indeed the types of traction control present on some models of later Defenders. James and Tim first demonstrated becoming cross axled with just TC present and then with both TC and diff lock in. It was then our turn to experiment with our own vehicles. We had a good group for this as we had both the wheel base variations so the point we lost momentum varied and also vehicles both with and without TC (and Mr Bowyer was just showing off with his a torque biasing differential!)
That was the end of the drive around morning and we headed back down to the camping field for a spot of lunch and to swap stories with the other group. Most of which was centred on the Land Cruiser getting frequently stuck and the whoops of delight from Mark and Evelyn as Mark (Pikey) got them free. The weather had remained overcast all morning but the sun was just starting to make an appearance. In a way, not a bad result to do the morning activities in slightly cooler and shadier conditions.

So, to the afternoon informal talks/demonstrations... With a drink of choice in hand, we all pulled up a chair ready to hear James’ talk on the do’s and don’ts with recovery gear and what you really need/don’t need depending upon the situations you may chose to put yourself in. Tim and David had signed off for the day and set up prime heckling spot whilst cracking into the wine.

David Bowyer then gave us a winching demonstration. For those of us without a winch, it was certainly an eye opener and there was one of the current ‘non-winch’ vehicle owners making noises about a winch now going on his shopping list. Not sure what DRL’s might look like in a winch bumper though!
The final talk of the afternoon was from David Gunning, the founder of BushMechanics. The emphasis of his fascinating talk was how to effect temporary repairs using basic materials in order to get you to a place where a permanent repair could be made. Equally, the importance of getting to know your vehicle and general good house keeping to spot potential problems before they became an issue.
After David’s talk, we all tucked into a delicious BBQ. Thanks to Jim for chef duties, Mark’s better half for the delicious puddings and whichever sheep it was that made the ultimate sacrifice for our fantastic lamb kebabs. With a glass/bottle in hand we then joined Mark for a brief talk and slide show on how the guys plan their own overland trips, together with a few photos from their time in Portugal and Morocco.
That was it for the day, so we set ourselves up around the campfire, chatted away, had a quick headlight photoshoot and then chatted some more.
Sunday dawned overcast and grey, a big contrast to the clear blue skies we had all gotten used to over the past few weeks. Would it stay so for the rest of the day? We really hoped not, given that we were due to travel into some of the most beautiful parts of Mid Wales on our mini expedition.
We were now in the group led by James & Mark in Marks' 300 Tdi engined 110, along with Mark & Evelyn in the Land Cruiser, Jon in his TGV engined 110 carawagon, Tom & Gemma in a 200 Tdi 90, Jon and Daniel in their TD5 engined 110, and Steve & Rachel in their Puma X-Tech 110 USW. Thus, it meant we had another large range of Defender variants with 5 different engine types represented, as well as the wonderful Land Cruiser. Our line up was likened to an episode of ‘Wacky Races’
Our transit routes to/between the lanes where almost as much fun as the lanes themselves. A beautiful and peaceful part of the world with stunning scenery. Peaceful that was until Mark in the lead vehicle applied his somewhat squeaky brakes. We even managed to play a short game of CB name that tune on one downhill transit route.
Our first unsurfaced lane was a few miles north of Hay on Wye and was an easy gravel track with a picturesque ford crossing. This short lane was quickly followed by the longest lane of the day, the somewhat infamous 'Black Yat'. In years gone by this lane has had a reputation for being badly rutted and very muddy. Given the extremely long dry spell we had just had though, there was little risk of mud, and there has also been a lot of maintenance done to the lane in recent years. These days it is a straightforward drive, with a firm base and no muddy holes to catch out the unwary. The rutted nature of the lane remains, however, and although not particularly deep and of no real consequence for the Land Rovers of the group, our elderly Land Cruiser on leaf springs and small wheels was presented with far more of a challenge. The worst of the ruts were right at the start of the lane and Mark attempted to drive to the side of the track in order to bypass them. However while crossing a small hollow the towbar/plough on the back once again caught them out resulting in yet another quick tug form the lead vehicle. No glum faces in that vehicle though, more whoops of delight at getting stuck once more. Unfortunately, Mark and Evelyn had to leave us at the end of the lane as Evelyn had to get back to Bristol Airport in order to catch her flight to the Netherlands later that afternoon. Of course, just as they left us the sun decided to break through and the rest of the day was spent driving in glorious sunshine with blue skies.
Having parted company, out slightly depleted group made the short transit to the start of the next lane, known as “Doctors Pool”. Once again this lane has seen much recent maintenance and is straightforward enough to drive. It also proved a suitable place to stop for lunch, although the aforementioned pool was nothing more than a dried out hollow! After a relaxed picnic in the sun we headed on to the next couple of lanes which were all bone dry and dusty. My son had resorted to playing his Ipod in the cab just before we stopped for lunch and so to liven things up a touch for him, it was suggested that perhaps he ride the rest of the lanes in the back on one of the inward facing seats. He jumped at the chance and was rewarded with a much more interesting ride. Steve and Rachel behind us must have been treated to a rather amusing show.
The last lane however, was quite interesting, being a steep pull uphill round a couple of tight bends with a very loose surface. To complicate things further some of the group were forced to content with Kamikaze sheep while negotiating the most difficult corner. Luckily no animals or vehicles were harmed and we were able to leave the lanes for the short pull back over the pass from Hay to the Llanthony Valley. A quick photo shoot on the pass in the sunshine and it was back to the campsite, well for most anyway!

Steve and Rachel and my son and I diverted briefly to stop at a local Abbey ruins for an ice-cream, to soak up yet more amazing views and to get some clues for the coordinates of a geocache that was hidden somewhere on the farm close to our camp site.

Most people were heading home too but some folk were staying the Sunday night as well and it was very very tempting to remain in this idyllic setting but work and school on the Monday dictated otherwise.

I can’t thank everyone enough for an incredibly well thought out and executed, fun weekend. When’s the next one... ??